Tiny puppies, young schoolchildren, and seniors with giving hearts are combining in Virginia Beach, Virginia in a unique program bringing them together to impact the lives of visually impaired individuals.
The Atlantic Shores/Guiding Eyes For The Blind "Puppy Love Program," launched on October 27, 2011, is one of the first in the nation to link the generations together in a partnership that will ultimately provide guide dogs matched to deserving individuals. The program was designed and came to life at Atlantic Shores, an energetic 100-acre retirement community in Virginia Beach, Virginia, which has embraced their newest, smallest residents -- two black Labrador puppies named Joanie, and Godrick.
This unique project is a partnership with Guiding Eyes For The Blind (GEB), an internationally accredited, nonprofit guide dog school with a 50-year legacy of providing the blind and visually impaired with superior Guiding Eyes dogs and lifetime support services, for free. This inspiring organization relies on volunteers for the critical first step of basic obedience training and socialization for their puppies.
Specially selected puppies were matched with Atlantic Shores resident raisers, including Linda Palminteri, a 61 year-old Wantagh, NY native who along with a support team of fellow residents and Atlantic Shores staff, have opened their homes and hearts to raise the puppies during a critical time in their lives. The puppies are living with their Atlantic Shores raisers, with GEB volunteers leading training sessions at Atlantic Shores to help the puppies undergo crucial socialization and behavioral training. All veterinary care, major supplies, and personal support are provided by Guiding Eyes.
Growing up on Long Island, Linda was touched earlier in her life with a personal experience with guide dogs. In support of her fraternal twin sister Lois, who has a form of Muscular Dystrophy, Linda helped train with her and her assistance dog named Carmichael - a black lab that served her for more than 16 years. Because Linda personally experienced the training, and saw the dramatic effect a service dog had in the life of her sister, she is dedicated to raising Joanie in Carmichael's memory.
The "Puppy Love Program" also includes partnerships with Ocean Lakes and Corporate Landing elementary schools in Virginia Beach, where special curriculum helps students understand the invaluable service these puppies will eventually provide, and how to properly interact with guide dogs they see in the community. The puppies and their Atlantic Shores resident raisers will make visits to the schools as part of their socialization training. Students will also follow the puppies' progress with "puppy cam" updates and student reporter segments broadcast on the schools' in-classroom TV feed.
While living at Atlantic Shores, the puppies are becoming integrated into the dog-friendly senior campus, with the puppies attending such resident activities as Arts & Crafts, and unique events like "Yappy Hours" with special treats for both human and canine residents. The puppies are also brightening spirits with resident visits at the community's Harbourway assisted living facility, and Seaside skilled nursing center.
After several months of training and love, the puppies will be returned to Guiding Eyes For The Blind for "finishing training," to teach them specific skills that eventually will make them the perfect companion for a deserving individual. The approximate value of each fully trained guide dog is $45,000 - - a cost that is entirely underwritten for each GEB graduate who receives a dog from the program.
"The time and effort that go into raising these special animals not only provide independence for our graduates, but can also be a life-changing experience for the puppy-raisers as well," explains GEB Regional Coordinator Gina Rose.
According to Atlantic Shores Executive Director Eden Jones, "We are thrilled to open our arms and hearts for this program. Our residents are creating ongoing legacies of support to not only the community, but also the world. This program is a perfect opportunity to pull together and impact the lives not only of our residents, but also hundreds more whose worlds will be touched by these puppies."
Elements of The "Puppy Love" Program with Atlantic Shores may be refined by GEB to be used in other communities. According to Gina Rose, "We are excited about the possibility of pairing our puppies with energetic seniors, and also about educating a younger generation about the mission of our organization through partnerships with local schools. Our program relies on the generosity of volunteers like the team at Atlantic Shores, who are willing to give of their time, which in today's busy world is sometimes the most precious gift of all."
"Puppy Love fans" from around the world can follow the progress of these tiny heroes by logging on to www.atlanticshoresliving.com/puppy_love, where a photo gallery, Dog-Blog and Puppy-Cam (including shots from a dog's eye level of view) will track the puppies' adventures. Fans can also like them on Facebook at: http://tinyurl.com/682m944